YEAR OF THE SNAKE CONTEST
Year of the Snake entry for September. 1000 words. For KM.
Mark Twain said that quitting smoking was the easiest thing in world, “I’ve done it a thousand times.” Very funny, but a real hell when you give it a serious try. The hours become very long, the days move by so slowly that you think the next day may never come, the nights go on forever. All in all, a personal sweaty nightmarish hell. But when you finally escape – if you finally escape . . .
It’s amazing what an incredibly bad day at work will do to send you over the edge and down to 7-Eleven for a pack of Marlboro Ultra Lights. I had quit smoking for two months, three weeks, and five days. The woman behind the counter looked surprised to see me. She knew she knew me, but it had been so long that her wondering where I’d been showed on her face. She finally smiled, nodded, and reached for a pack of Marlboro Lights. “Usual?”
“No, the ultra lights,” I said, pointing toward them on the rack.
“Oh, right,” she mumbled, nodding. “Sorry.”
I assured her it was not a problem. I hate making other people feel like they’ve made a mistake. I paid for the pack and went outside to my car. I knew I was going to smoke one before I even got in the car to drive home.
There was someone leaning against my front driver side door. As I moved cautiously toward the person, he became more familiar. It was my high school classmate Rylan Chee.
“Hey Rylan,” I called out, shaking him up a bit. “What are you doing here?”
“Waiting for my daughter,” he answered, pointing across the street to the dimly lit Kawananakoa basketball courts.
I nodded. “How’d you know this was my car?”
“How many people have a Lab School bumpersticker?” he laughed.
I knew he smoked cigars, so I offered. “Cigarette?”
“Cigarette? I thought you quit smoking. You’ve been giving us weekly Facebook updates for a couple of months now.”
“Yeah, I know, but I think I was really meant to be a frickin smoker. Real shitty day at work, and my nerves are fucked up tonight.”
“Ah, there’s this thing we call priority registration, and if I hadn’t had my head up my ass, I could have saved us a whole lotta grief because we’d have known this woman with mobility problems couldn’t get up stairs and needed an elevator –“
“Whoa, whoa, you lost me,” Rylan said.
“Me too,” I said, laughing. “I’m lost.” I shook my head.
I put a cigarette in my mouth then felt in my pocket for a lighter. A lighter? I hadn’t smoked in nearly three months, and I automatically expected to find a lighter on me. Idiot!
“What?” Rylan asked as I slapped my forehead.
“Go back in and get matches.”
“Nah, you know what? I’m staying quit.” I crumpled up the pack and tossed it in the trash. “So let’s go see your daughter play.”
Rylan shook his head slowly. “She’s not playing. She’s watching.”
“Watching? That doesn’t sound like your daughter.”
“Yeah, you’re right. You know what else doesn’t sound like my daughter? She’s waiting for her GIRLfriend to finish playing.”
The way he said it sounded weird.
Rylan laughed. “She’s got a girlfriend for chrissake.”
“You mean, uh, a girl who’s her friend?”
“No, I mean a girlfriend as in it’s not a boyfriend.”
Well this was suddenly awkward. “So, uh, how long have you known?”
“Just the other day. We’re eating our usual Sunday dinner cuz it’s the only time we’re all together anymore, and she says she has this announcement to make. So we’re all listening and she comes right out and says she’s gay. And she has a girlfriend.”
“That’s a pretty tough kind of surprise way to learn about it.”
“You better believe it. So now I get to meet the girlfriend and drive them home so she can take a shower in my shower, then limo them to the movies. Great, huh?”
I didn’t quite know how to respond to this. Probably better just to stand there nodding my head. Nothing I could say was going to make any difference anyway. I didn’t want to get him angry.
“You know,” he said, “it’s one thing to have a shitty day, it’s another thing to have a shitty life.”
Sometimes I can’t mind my own business. I felt I had to say something about this. “Her life would have been worse if she’d had to hide her being gay. It took a lot for her to tell you, I’m sure. I bet it lifts a great weight off of her.”
“And puts it right on me. I’m talking about my life, brah, not hers.”
“Look, Ry, would you rather she kept it secret? Suffered because she was afraid to tell you? I don’t’ think so. Your life isn’t shitty. It’s . . . upset.”
“Yeah yeah yeah. I know you’re right. It’s just hard to swallow.” He laughed again. “You know what’s funny?”
I shook my head.
“Nothing. Nothing is funny at all about any of this. But I guess I’ll get used to it.”
Great cheering came from the courts.
I wanted to say that he’d better get used to it, but there are some things you’ve got to not say sometimes, even if they’re true.
“Here they come now,” Rylan pointed out.
The two were running across the street.
“Well,” Rylan said, “at least they’re not holding hands. Here goes.”
I watched him walk over and hug his daughter. He reached out to shake the other girl’s hand. He turned around and waved to me and I waved back.
They got into his car and drove off.
I leaned against my car and thought about how my friend had learned he had a gay daughter, that he’d met the girlfriend, and how proud I was that I’d found myself a quit smoker. For good.